Sunday, 29 June 2008

EU elites – Who are they?

All the masters of strategy from Sun Tzu onwards have underlined the crucial importance of knowing your enemy. In my continuing effort to guide anti-EU campaigners towards less nebulous and more stringent thinking, the time has come to look at their favourite enemy, the ‘EU elite(s)’.

First, we have to deconstruct the concept. Who are the ‘EU elites’?

Here is my attempt:

1) We have the national heads of state or government (meeting in the European Council).

2) Then we have the national government ministers (who convene in different Council configurations) and the Council machinery with its different functions (negotiating, legislating, executing, administering, monitoring).

3) The national parliaments, elected by the citizens, each hold their own government accountable for its share in EU dealings and they hold the keys to ratification of the ground rules (treaties), constituting the dominant part of the (in my view contrived) double legitimacy of the European Union.

4) The European Parliament, directly elected by the EU citizens, at the present time co-legislator, along with the Council in most of the matters pertaining to the ‘Community pillar, but effectively excluded from the crucial decisions (setting the ground rules, electing the government, setting the main course of policies, levying taxes, deciding on the long term budget, making the fundamental decisions on foreign, security and defence policy, as well as parts of justice and home affairs and agricultural policy to name a few significant sectoral deficiencies).

5) The European Commission, with rights to propose legislation in ‘Community’ matters and with powers to execute and administer these (civil service), subject to varying degrees of Council and EP monitoring. The Commission is excluded from roughly the same policy areas as the European Parliament, with the notable exception that it executes the common agricultural policy, as defined by the Council (member states).

6) The European Court of Justice, which interprets the Treaty establishing the European Community and the secondary legislation based on it (since the Court is excluded from much of the Treaty on European Union).

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The Court of Justice has undoubtedly advanced the aims of the treaties by landmark rulings on voids and interpretative difficulties, but it has also set limits to community action. On balance, the Court has acted according to the objectives of the treaties, sometimes beyond a literal interpretation.

The Lisbon Treaty proposes measures concerning the appointment of judges, who at the present time are effectively appointed by their respective governments, but I fail to see the merits of the anti-EU critique of ‘unelected judges’ or any constructive alternatives.

If ‘unelected judges’ are bad, how should the judges be elected? It is not enough to smear; clean-up measures should be offered.

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The Commission has the (near) monopoly of proposals in its given fields of activity, and it executes the policies delegated to it under the watchful eye of the Council (and the European Parliament), but the Commission does not rule Europe.

From reading some of the more uneducated blogs, one could get the impression that the Commission is the lawmaker of the European Union.

Is there a viable alternative to a fairly objective guardian of the treaty provisions on the internal market, competition, external trade and other common policy areas? What would it be?

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The directly elected European Parliament is part equal legislator, part minor partner, in community matters. The Lisbon Treaty would extend the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision), but stil leave crucial areas of EU matters outside effective parliamentary scrutiny.

As I see it, the problem is not overwhelming EP power, but its severe limitations. EU level democratic legitimacy and accountability require profound reform to give the citizens of the European Union the decisive powers: to elect and to replace the officeholders and to set the course for the EU in all matters within its competence.

This means that the EU would get a real executive (government), responsible to the European Parliament (ultimately with two chambers).

The new European Union would be approved by a pan-EU referendum, requiring a double majority, of citizens and states.

The states where the populations vote against their own electoral powers and a more effective union, would remain outside the new structures, at their own level of comfort and factual incompetence (dressed up as sovereignty).

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But today, the dominant EU players are the first three, mentioned above: the national leaders, the national governments and the national parliaments, as well as their creatures, the European Council and the Council.

Are these really ‘EU elites’, when in reality they are national or intergovernmental (at the expense of citizens’ more direct influence)?

The concept, as in use by anti-EU propagandists, seems to be either a fallacy or an exercise in disinformation.

The modest Treaty of Lisbon would do little to change that. More reform is needed, not less.


Ralf Grahn